It was a historic day for the members of the yavusa Wainikeli in Naselesele Village on Taveuni after receiving their full lease title of 1184 acres of land from Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka.
The members of the landowning unit now become the latest yavusa to have received full freehold lease title on four of its land parcels under the Freehold Buy-Back Scheme.
The arrangement under this buy-back scheme was endorsed by Cabinet in 1993 on the understanding that the landowning unit repay all sum to government in installments over a 30-year term.
Under the scheme, government purchased the freehold land on sale on behalf of landowners, on a fair and market price determined by government-registered valuers through interest-free loans on the terms and conditions stated under the Sales and Purchase Agreement document.
Turaga Ni Yavusa Wainikeli , Na Turaga Tui Wei Ratu Talemo Ratakele, a former government minister and Great Council of chiefs senator received the land title from Prime Minister Rabuka yesterday.
Prime Minister Rabuka, while officiating at the event, said he was very proud to be part of the ocassion to celebrate this significant milestone in our history.
“I wish to convey my gratitude to the yavusa Wainikeli and its members for their incredible effort and earnest hard work executed to fulfil the obligations of your repayment agreement which was discharged with most efficient and effective manner,” he told the villagers.
“As we’ve heard, three months before the expiry of the repayment period, you have managed to complete your repayment very well. I congratulate you.
“You have now represented other landowning units in Fiji who have had their land alienated from them. You represent a beacon of hope to these landowning units to continue to strive for the return of those land that were alienated from their ownership.
“I’m particularly proud to be here to hand over the lease title that was once alienated by our colonisers, but now it is yours again, and by law it cannot be alienated again.”
Prime Minister expressed his gratitude to the members of the landowning unit for their hard work and determination in fulfilling their financial obligations for the past 30 years, adding their attitude should now “redirect your journey into the next 30 years”.
Chairman of the working committee for the landowning unit, Mr Julian Hennings said the event would certainly go down in the “history books” as it was something that their forefathers initiated decades ago.
“This is an emotional day for us as we celebrate our hard work and sacrifice. We had to organise non-stop fundraising drives to repay our loan. The original purchase price was $230,000 and for the first 29 years, we managed to pay about $100,000.
“This didn’t stop us from organising more fundraising drive and today as we celebrate, we look back and thank all those who have helped us along the way.
“We would also like to thank the past and present governments for the tremendous assistance to the yavusa. Now that we have our land back, the hard work starts from today for equity and sustainable benefits.”
In achieving this long-term sustainability, the landowning unit has started land cultivation with about 40 percent of the land being used for dalo and yaqona farming.
After the formalities, a talanoa session was held where the villagers had the opportunity to raise their issues and concerns directly with the Prime Minister.